Friday 12 June 2015

Life after architecture: a returner's story

We have been spending a lot of time with the people at RIBA recently, meeting some very interesting returners and also practices which want to hire them. This is a return to work success story of one architect who took a different, but no less fulfilling route back to her professional career after a 10 year break.

Architect to QA Manager, Architectural Recruitment 

I qualified as an architect in the early nineties and started working in practice in London. Then, when my husband was relocated to New York in 1998, I went with him and found work there myself, firstly as an architect and then in the wider construction industry. On the news that I was expecting twins in 2004 we decided to move back to London and they were born just after we arrived back later that year. The first three or so years passed in a blur and then slowly, as they progressed to school and I had more time on my hands, my mind turned to what I was going to do next.
The thought of returning to practice, where hours are long and workload unpredictable, seemed impossible now that I had a whole new life at home that had not existed before. Working late and on weekends had never been a problem before children but now with the school day ending at 3:15 it seemed, in my mind at least, impossible to make it work. So I gloomily resigned myself to fact that I would never work again in my profession and busied myself with local voluntary work at the Macular Society and the Foodbank.
Then one day in 2014, a full 10 years after leaving my job in New York, I spotted a job ad in Building Design (the weekly newspaper for architects that I had kept on reading) for a 3 day a week role as quality assurance manager for an architectural recruitment agency. The job description said that the role would suit someone with an architectural background who would like to do something different with their training. I was intrigued and immediately emailed my CV and a covering letter, explaining exactly my situation and that I had been out of the workplace for 10 years, fully expecting it to disappear into the ether. However, much to my immense surprise, later that day when school home time was in full flow, I received a phone call from the operations director of the company saying they had been waiting for a CV like mine for months!
An interview was arranged and, nerves notwithstanding, it turned out to be a really lovely chat. They were open to my doing the hours of 3 days a week in any combination to suit me so that I could continue to drop off and pick up my children from school every day. We agreed on 10:00 to 2:00 Monday - Thursday and all day from home on a Friday to make up the difference. During holidays I condense the hours back to 3 whole days, 1 from home, which makes childcare between my husband and I so much easier to organise.
I have been there for a year now and it has restored my confidence and general zest for life no end, the balance is perfect. As the agency hires its recruiters from industry I have found myself surrounded by architects once again, which I love, and also by dealing with practices in London, a few of which I have either worked for or have acquaintances in, I have been able to slot back into the architectural community.
My role has evolved too from originally just checking written work that leaves the office and producing KPI statistics for the weekly meetings to now analysing those numbers and reporting on performance to the management team. I have also created and put in place systems to do this. It has been hard work and challenging but really rewarding, calling on my organisational skills and knowledge of processes.
Having found a way back into the workplace I am hoping, with the backing of the company, to be able to create a support network and possible partnerships with architectural practices to enable other women in the profession in a similar position to get back in and use their hard earned qualifications and experience again. It's early days but watch this space!

Posted by Katerina

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